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Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire Series #6)

Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire Series #6)

3.9 262
by Naomi Novik

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Convicted of treason despite their heroic defense against Napoleon’s invasion of England, Temeraire and Capt. Will Laurence have been transported to a prison colony in distant Australia—and into a hornet’s nest of fresh complications. The colony is in turmoil after the overthrow of military governor William Bligh—aka Captain Bligh, late of HMS&


Convicted of treason despite their heroic defense against Napoleon’s invasion of England, Temeraire and Capt. Will Laurence have been transported to a prison colony in distant Australia—and into a hornet’s nest of fresh complications. The colony is in turmoil after the overthrow of military governor William Bligh—aka Captain Bligh, late of HMS Bounty. And when Bligh tries to enlist them in his bid to regain office, the dragon and his captain are caught in the middle of a political power struggle. Their only chance to escape the fray is accepting a mission to blaze a route through the forbidding Blue Mountains and into the interior of Australia. But the theft of a precious dragon egg turns their expedition into a desperate recovery operation—leading to a shocking discovery and a dangerous new complication in the global war between Britain and Napoleon.

BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Naomi Novik's Crucible of Gold.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A joy to read.”—The Star-Ledger

“I’m more excited about [Naomi] Novik’s series than I ever have been. . . . Tongues of Serpents might just be the best.”—Clay Kallam, Contra Costa Times

Praise for the novels of Temeraire
“Completely involving and probably addictive.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Enthralling reading."—Time

“Gripping adventure.”—Entertainment Weekly

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Temeraire Series , #6
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Random House
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File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

There were few streets in the main port of Sydney which deserved the name, besides the one main thoroughfare, and even that bare packed dirt, lined only with a handful of small and wretched buildings that formed all the permanence of the colony. Tharkay turned off from this and led the way down a cramped, irregularly arranged alley-way between two wooden-slat buildings to a courtyard full of men drinking, in surly attitudes, under no roof but a tarpaulin.

Along one side of the courtyard, the further from the kitchens, the convicts sat in their drab and faded duck trousers, dusty from the fields and quarries and weighted down with fatigue; along the other, small parties of men from the New South Wales Corps watched with candidly unfriendly faces as Laurence and his companions seated themselves at a small table near the edge of the establishment.

Besides their being strangers, Granby’s coat drew the eye: bottle-green was not in the common way, and though he had put off the worst excesses of gold braid and buttons with which Iskierka insisted upon adorning him, the embroidery at cuffs and collar could not be so easily detached. Laurence wore plain brown, himself: to make a pretense of standing in the Aerial Corps now was wholly out of the question, of course, and if his dress raised questions concerning his situation, that was certainly no less than honest, as neither he nor anyone else had yet managed to work out what that ought in any practical sense to be.

“I suppose this fellow will be here soon enough,” Granby said, unhappily; he had insisted on coming, but not from any approval of the scheme.

“I fixed the hour at six,” Tharkay answered, and then turned his head: one of the younger officers had risen from the tables and was coming towards them.

Eight months aboard ship with no duties of his own and shipmates nearly united in their determination to show disdain had prepared Laurence for the scene which, with almost tiresome similarity, unfolded yet again. The insult itself was irritating for demanding some answer, more than anything else; it had not the power to wound in the mouth of a coarse young boor, stinking of rum and visibly unworthy to stand among even the shabby ranks of a military force alternately called the Rum Corps. Laurence regarded Lieutenant Agreuth only with distaste, and said briefly, “Sir, you are drunk; go back to your table, and leave us at ours.”

There the similarity ended, however: “I don’t see why I,” Agreuth said, his tongue tangling awkwardly, so he had to stop and repeat himself, speaking with excessive care, “why I should listen to anything out of a piss-pot whoreson traitor’s fucking mouth—”

Laurence stared, and heard the tirade with mounting incredulity; he would have expected the gutter language out of a dockyard pickpocket in a temper, and hardly knew how to hear it from an officer. Granby had evidently less difficulty, and sprang to his feet saying, “By God, you will apologize, or for halfpence I will have you flogged through the streets.”

“I would like to see you try it,” Agreuth said, and leaning over spat into Granby’s glass; Laurence stood too late to catch Granby’s arm from throwing it into Agreuth’s face.

That was of course an end to even the barest hope or pretense of civility; Laurence instead pulled Granby back by his arm, out of the way of Agreuth’s wildly swinging fist, and letting go struck back with the same hand, clenched, as it came again at his face.

He did not hold back; if brawling was outrageous, it looked inevitable, and he would as soon have it over with quickly. So the blow was armed with all the strength built up from childhood on rope-lines and harness, and Laurence knocked Agreuth directly upon the jaw: the lieutenant lifted half-an-inch from the ground, his head tipping back and leading the rest of his frame. Stumbling a few steps as he came down, he pitched face-front onto the floor straight through the neighboring table, to the accompaniment of several shattering glasses and the stink of cheap rum.

That might have been enough, but Agreuth’s companions, though officers and some of them older and more sober than he, showed no reluctance in flinging themselves at once into the fray thus begun. The men at the overturned table, sailors on an East India merchantman, were as quick to take offense at the disruption of their drinking; and a mingled crowd of sailors and laborers and soldiers, all better than three-quarters of the way drunk, and a great scarcity of women, as compared to what would have been found in nearly every other dockyard house of the world which Laurence knew, was a powder-keg ready for the slow-match in any case. The rum had not finished sinking between the paving-stones before men were rising from their chairs all around them.

Another officer of the New South Wales Corps threw himself on Laurence: a bigger man than Agreuth, sodden and heavy with liquor. Laurence twisted himself loose and heaved him down onto the floor, shoving him as well as could be managed under the table. Tharkay was already with a practical air seizing the bottle of rum by the neck, and when another man lunged—this one wholly unconnected with Agreuth, and by all appearances simply pleased to fight anyone at all—Tharkay clubbed him upon the temple swiftly.

Granby had been seized upon by three men at once: two of them, Agreuth’s fellows, for spite, and one who was trying his best only to get at the jeweled sword and belt around Granby’s waist. Laurence struck the pickpocket on the wrist, and seizing him by the scruff of the collar flung him stumbling across the courtyard; Granby exclaimed, then, and turning back Laurence found him ducking from a knife, dirty and rust-speckled, being stabbed at his eyes.

“By God, have you taken all leave of your senses?” Laurence said, and seized upon the knife-wielder’s hand with both his own, twisting the blade away, while Granby efficiently knocked down the third man and turned back to help him. The melee was spreading rapidly now, helped along by Tharkay, who was coolly throwing the toppled chairs across the room, knocking over still more of the tables, and flinging glasses of rum into the faces of the custom as they rose indignantly.

Laurence and Granby and Tharkay were only three together, and thanks to the advance of the New South Wales officers well-surrounded, leaving the irritated men no other target but those same officers; a target on which the convicts in particular seemed not loath to vent their spleen. This was not a very coherently directed fury, however, and when the officer before Laurence had been clubbed down with a heavy stool, the choleric assailant behind him swung it with equal fervor at Laurence himself.

Laurence slipped upon the wet floorboards, catching the stool away from his face, and went to one knee in a puddle. He shoved the man’s leg out from under him, and was rewarded with the full weight of man and stool landing upon his shoulder, so they went sprawling together upon the floor.

Splinters drove into Laurence’s side, where his shirt had ridden up from his breeches and come wholly loose, and the big convict, swearing at him, struck him on the side of his face with a clenched fist. Laurence tasted blood as his lip tore upon his tooth, a dizzying haze over his sight. They were rolling across the floor, and Laurence had no very clear recollection of the next few moments; he was pounding at the other man savagely, a blow with every turn, knocking his head against the boards over and over. It was a vicious, animal struggle, insensible of both feeling and thought; he knew only distantly as he was kicked, by accident, or struck against the wall or some overturned piece of furniture.

The limp unconsciousness of his opponent freed him at last from the frenzy, and Laurence with an effort opened his clenched hand and let go the man’s hair, and pushed himself up from the floor, staggering. They had fetched up against the wooden counter before the kitchen. Laurence reaching up clutched at the edge and pulled himself to his feet, aware more than he wished to be, all at once, of a deep stabbing pain in his side, and stinging cuts in his cheek and his hands. He fumbled at his face and pulled free a long sliver of broken glass, tossing it upon the counter.

The fighting had begun already to die down, oddly quick to Laurence’s instinctive sense of an action; the particpants lacked the appetite of a real engagement, where there was anything worth to be gained. Laurence limping across the room made it to Granby’s side: Agreuth and one of his fellow officers had clawed their way back up onto their feet and were yet grappling weakly with him in a corner, vicious but half-exhausted, so they were swaying back and forth more than wrestling.

Coming in, Laurence heaved Granby free, and leaning on each other they stumbled out of the courtyard and into the narrow, stinking alley-way outside, which yet seemed fresh out from under the makeshift tarpaulin; a fine misting rain was falling. Laurence leaned gratefully against the far wall made cool and light by the coating of dew, ignoring with a practiced stomach the man a few steps away who was heaving the contents of his belly into the gutters. A couple of women coming down the alley-way lifted their skirts over the trickle of muck and continued past them all without hesitation, not even looking in at the disturbance of the tavern courtyard.

“My God, you look a fright,” Granby said, dismally.

“I have no doubt,” Laurence said, gingerly touching at his face. “And I have two ribs cracked, I dare say. I am sorry to say, John, you are not in much better case.”

“No, I am sure not,” Granby said. “We will have to take a room somewhere, if anyplace will let us through the door, to wash up; what Iskierka would do seeing me in such a state, I have no notion.”

Laurence had a very good notion what Iskierka would do, and also Temeraire, and between them there would not be much left of the colony to speak of afterwards.

“Well,” Tharkay said, joining them as he wrapped his neckcloth around his own bloodied hand, “I believe I saw our man look into the establishment, a little while ago, but I am afraid he thought better of coming in under the circumstances. I will have to inquire after him to arrange another meeting.”

“No,” Laurence said, blotting his lip and cheek with his handkerchief. “No, I thank you; I think we can dispense with his information. I have seen all I need to, in order to form an opinion of the discipline of the colony, and its military force.”

Temeraire sighed and toyed with the last bites of kangaroo stew—the meat had a pleasantly gamy sort of flavor, not unlike deer, and he had found it at first a very satisfying change from fish, after the long sea-voyage. But he could only really call it palatable when cooked rare, which did not offer much variety; in stew it became quite stringy and tiresome, especially as the supply of spice left even more to be desired.

There were some very nice cattle in a pen which he could see, from his vantage upon the harbor promontory, but evidently they were much too dear here for the Corps to provide. And Temeraire of course could not propose such an expense to Laurence, not when he had been responsible for the loss of Laurence’s fortune; instead Temeraire had silenced all his mild complaints about the lack of variety: but sadly Gong Su had taken this as encouragement, and it had been nothing but kangaroo morning and night, four days running—not even a bit of tunny.

“I do not see why we mayn’t at least go hunting further along,” Iskierka said, even while licking out her own bowl indecorously—she quite refused to learn anything resembling polite manners. “This is a large country, and it stands to reason there ought to be something more worth eating if we looked. Perhaps there are some of those elephants which you have been on and on about; I should like to try one of those.”

Temeraire would have given a great deal for a delicious elephant, seasoned with a generous amount of pepper and perhaps some sage, but Iskierka was never to be encouraged in anything whatsoever. “You are very welcome to go flying away anywhere you like,” he said, “and to surely get quite lost. No one has any notion of what this countryside is like, past the mountains, and there is no one in it, either, to ask for directions: not people or dragons.”

“That is very silly,” Iskierka said. “I do not say these kangaroos are very good eating, because they are not, and there are not enough of them, either; but they are certainly no worse than what we had in Scotland during the last campaign, so it is stuff to say there is no one living here; why wouldn’t there be? I dare say there are plenty of dragons here, only they are somewhere else, eating much better than we are.”

This struck Temeraire as not an unlikely possibility, and he made a note to discuss it privately with Laurence, later; which recalled him to Laurence’s absence, and thence to the advancing hour. “Roland,” he called, with a little anxiety—of course Laurence did not need nursemaiding, but he had promised to return before the supper hour, and read a little more of the novel which he had acquired in town the day before—“Roland, is it not past five?”

“Lord, yes, it must be almost six,” Emily Roland answered, putting down her sword; she and Demane were fencing a little, in the yard. She patted her face down with a tugged-free tail of her shirt, and ran to the promontory edge to call down to the sailors below, and came back to say, “No, I am wrong: it is a quarter past seven: how strange the day is so long, when it is almost Christmas!”

“It is not strange at all,” Demane said. “It is only strange that you keep insisting it must be winter here only because it is in England.”

“But where is Granby, if it is so late?” Iskierka said, prickling up at once, overhearing. “He did not mean to go anywhere particularly nice, he assured me, or I should never have let him go looking so shabby.”

From the Hardcover edition.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"The characters are as riveting as ever, the setting is new but convincing, and the plot, with its first-class balancing of Laurence's and Temeraire's internal and external struggles, shows Novik's continued excellence as a novelist." —-Booklist

Meet the Author

Naomi Novik is the acclaimed author of His Majesty’s Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War, Empire of Ivory, Victory of Eagles, Tongues of Serpents, Crucible of Gold, and Blood of Tyrants, the first eight volumes of the Temeraire series. She has been nominated for the Hugo Award and has won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, as well as the Locus Award for Best New Writer and the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. She is also the author of the graphic novel Will Supervillains Be on the Final?
Fascinated with both history and legends, Novik is a first-generation American raised on Polish fairy tales and stories of Baba Yaga. Her own adventures include pillaging degrees in English literature and computer science from various ivory towers, designing computer games, and helping to build the Archive of Our Own for fanfiction and other fanworks. Novik is a co-founder of the Organization for Transformative Works.
She lives in New York City with her husband, Charles Ardai, the founder of Hard Case Crime, and their daughter, Evidence, surrounded by an excessive number of purring computers.

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Tongues of Serpents (Temeraire Series #6) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 265 reviews.
Lisa_RR_H More than 1 year ago
TONGUES OF SERPENTS is my least favorite book in Novik's series thus far--but the first five set a very high bar--this book is still on its own merits among the most enjoyable reads I've had in a long time. After this novel set in Australia, the only continents left to visit will be the Americas and Antarctica. That has been one of the series' charms--visiting different societies from China to Africa and seeing their different relations with dragons. For Novik's dragons aren't like those of other works of fantasy I've read. They're not beasts; they're nothing akin to pets. They're people. Temeraire himself displays an intellect that at times over-matches that of his human partner. The dragons in this series and book have personalities and characters that move the action along as much as any human. Because of dragon sentience and the setting at the dawn of the British Empire, issues of freedom, rights and autonomy are particularly important in this series, from the rights of dragons to the status of women and slaves. With Temeraire and Laurence cut off in Australia both have far less scope for involvement in the world's affairs though. The previous books were more involving to me because more was at stake right from the beginning. The wider world, or even Australia's aborigines, doesn't impinge much on this book until the last few chapters--about half the book is taken up with a trek into the Outback I was at times impatient to see end. So no, I didn't love this one quite as much as the other Temeraire books: Not as moving as HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON or as engrossing as THRONE OF JADE or as thrilling an adventure as BLACK POWDER WAR or with the high emotional stakes and action-filled events of EMPIRE OF IVORY or VICTORY OF EAGLES. Despite all that, I thoroughly enjoyed the TONGUE OF SERPENTS and more than anything that's due to Laurence and Temeraire. As in the last novel, in this one Temeraire gets to share the point of view with Laurence (who had been the sole point of view in the first four books). Temeraire is like a precocious child that asks the embarrassing questions and who has a disconcerting ability to think outside proscribed lines and his point of view is always engaging. Laurence has changed quite a bit in the course of the books because of Temeraire and their mutual affection and devotion is still endearing and I love Laurence's character arc in this book. At one point in this book Laurence reflects that Temeraire's "habits of free-thinking" are supposed by the other aviators to be due to Laurence's influence--when it is quite the reverse. The Laurence/Temeraire relationship is a lot of what makes these novels such addicting reads. I'll certainly be eager to follow them through their seventh book--even if they wind up in Antarctica.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been an avid reader of the other Temeraire books, but this one did not live up to its expectations. It was downright dull. There are very few episodes worthy of note, and almost no actual battles - and even they were short and timid compared to those in the other books of the series. Temeraire rarely says anything of amusing, most of the old set of characters is gone and replaced by superficial new ones, and the author seems to have thrown over the good plot line of French v. English for wandering aimlessly around Australia. After the first 60 pages spent on a dull political struggle about who is in charge of Sydney, the next 120 or so were spent wandering around in the vacant Australian terrain. I restorted to skimming the last 100 pages. After the amazing tales in the Victory of Eagles and its predecessors, this book is a marked exception.
IHT More than 1 year ago
i have now read all 6 in this series since Fathers Day weekend (when His Majesty's Dragon was the book for Free Friday). the other 5 books were either great, or very good. this one SUCKED!!! i was nearly so bored and disgusted with this that i almost stopped reading it altogether... SPOILERS: ok, so Laurence and Temeraire get sent to "New South Wales" (soon to be Australia). the highly annoying Dragon, Iskeria, decides to come along. the main plot seems to be the 3 dragon eggs that they are suppose to start a new Covert with down there. unfortunatly, Rankin is re-introduced, as are a few new characters you don't even get to know, including Cpt Bligh (Mutiny on the Bounty fame). one egg hatches, Cpt Riley gets that dragonet, and he's still a jerk (but not to the dragon, oddly enough). but the dragon is just as annoying and pompous as Iskeria... why Temeraire doesn't just slap the taste out of their mouths throughout the story, i have no idea. then, 1 of the eggs is stolen while they're out searching for a pass through the mountains! they spend damn near the rest of the freaking book talking about the stupid color of the rocks, the brush, the streams, the water, the.... you get the idea. nearly 150+ pages of NOTHINGNESS!!! it is 280 pages long, and on page 240, SOMETHING worthwhile finally happens!!! then it's over almost immediately, and it wasn't that compelling anyway. really, did i need to know about every nook and cranny wherever they landed in the outback? no, i didn't. complete waste of time about every time they were trying to find the trail of the theives. did we need to have our time wasted with these lizard like "binyips" or whatever they were called, too? the writing style seemed to change again. first books were all from Laurence's point of view, then one (or two) from Temeraire's. this one, seemed written from an outsiders view... the ending, just doesn't make any sense at all. sure, it leaves you hanging, like "what will they do next?" and that's after you feel that Laurence and Tem are about to "break up"... and why didn't Tem beat the stuffing out of Iskeria for taking him down in the Ocean? just a very frustrating and disappointing book compared to the first 5, WHICH I HIGHLY RECOMMEND! so many little sub-sub-plots that don't matter to the overall story and only seem to be there to take up space (or for the next book to take shape), just like the too descriptive story-telling about every color of rock and tree that doesn't matter. it went on and on and on, and nobody cares!!! this book could have been 75-100 pages total, written in the same style as the first 5, and been a very good book. if there's a 7th in the series, i sincerely hope the "test readers" have the nuts to give better feedback than what they did on this one. they should be fired to have allowed the author to continue with this little, and undramatic, substance to be put together and called a book. sorry, but I'm not happy at all with this one, and loved the other 5, could wait to read the 6th... took my "nook" with me on family vacation just so i could read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So far, a bit disappointing...I wondered if it has been authored by someone other than Naomi Novik. I am having some difficulty getting interested in it. The plot seems disjointed, and is lacking in the action found in her previous books, which I devoured. I was fairly excited about the sixth book, having felt, after reading the first five, that I was bidding adieu to a group of friends. Wow...a sixth book is coming out! And here I am, barely able to keep reading it.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Considered traitors for saving French dragons from a deadly plague while his country is at war with France, English Captain Will Laurence and his Chinese-British dragon Temeraire are exiled to New South Wales. However, he never anticipated being embroiled in a local dispute over who should rule the colony. The former royal governor wants back in control, while insurgents want to control the government. Both sides try to persuade Laurence and his dragon allies to support them. When a dragon egg is stolen, Laurence and Temeraire lead a quest to recover the egg; a dangerous trek over the Blue Mountains The sixth Laurence-Temeraire thriller is much darker and less passionate than previous entries (see Victory of Eagles, His Majesty's Dragon, Throne Of Jade, Black Powder War and Empire Of Ivory). The heroic pair works a grim landscape, but never gets close to the Aborigines; a missed opportunity to see how the natives and the dragon interact. Having Bligh of the Bounty fame adds a solid twist and Temeraire's draconian outlook adds a fabulous perspective so that fans of the saga will enjoy the exile to Australia where in spite of their good intentions the dragon and his human get involved with a nasty dispute. Harriet Klausner
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Respectabiggle More than 1 year ago
A fascinating look at a part of the world that doesn't get much treatment in history or fiction of the Napoleonic era. The action is compelling and immersive, and puts the characters to whom you've grown attached into terribly difficult circumstances that Divine Wind can't get them out of. Novik doesn't waste a lot of text on backstory, which I count as a plus, but that wouldn't make this the best choice for someone new to the series.
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